Terminal 5 problems should have been avoided, say MPs

Problems experienced at the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5, which led to hundreds of cancelled flights and thousands of passengers losing theirluggage, "could and should" have been avoided, MPs said today.

Problems experienced at the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5, which led to hundreds of cancelled flights and thousands of passengers losing theirluggage, "could and should" have been avoided, MPs said today.

Most of the issues were caused by poor system testing, poor communication between British Airways and airport operator BAA, and poor staff training, according to a report published by the Transport Select Committee today.

Terminal 5 opened on 27 March this year, and immediately ran into problems, with 23,000 bags ending up misplaced and over 500 flights cancelled.

IT glitches played a central role in causing some of the troubles.

Software filters installed during testing were accidentally left in place after the systems went live. Their job was to prevent the specimen messages generated during testing being sent to live systems elsewhere in Heathrow.

But once the Terminal 5 system went live, the filters meant Terminal 5 did not receive messages about bags transferring from other airlines. These bags were automatically sent for manual sorting.

British Airways held a number of trials before the terminal opened, but the MPs said they were not enough to make sure the baggage system could cope. "They failed in the ultimate objective of getting the system to a point where it worked well enough to cope with the opening successfully. The chaotic scenes of late March and early April could, and should have been avoided through better preparation."

Since the opening, BAA and BA have instigated a daily Terminal 5 operations meeting to review each day's performance, and a weekly joint meeting to review the baggage system's performance.

The MPs criticised BAA executives for being "unhelpful". Their report said, "We were concerned that during our first evidence session, representatives from BAA were unhelpful and ill-prepared. They provided us with no satisfactory explanation as to how this national embarrassment had been allowed to unfold."

BAA said two of the lessons it learnt as a result of Terminal 5's opening were to refine the parameters for live monitoring of baggage performance, and to ensure a direct link between the BAA and BA baggage and logistics teams.

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